China And Greece Are About To Experience A Boom In Air Travel

Air traffic between China and Greece is expected to rise significantly in the near future. The governments of these two countries just signed a new memorandum of understanding that will allow their airlines to double the number of flights between China and Greece.

aegean and air china
Aegean Airlines and Air China are likely to benefit the most. Photo: Tom Boon, Simple Flying

What is an MoU?

A Memorandum of Understanding is a formal document outlining an agreement between parties, usually ahead of a course of action. Typically, these are not legally binding in the aviation industry, but they do signal that the parties involved are entering or extending a partnership.

The Memorandum of Understanding between China and Greece is strictly a bilateral one. This is a common approach to regulating air traffic between countries that are not members of multinational agreements.

Previous Memorandum of Understanding agreements that we reported about on Simple Flying include VietJet for maintenanceKLM’s new partnership with Gulf Air, and Flynas’s A321XLR order.

China And Greece Are About To Experience A Boom In Air Travel
Aegean Airlines is already benefiting from Chinese arrivals in Greece because it channels transfer passengers of Hainan Airlines through Brussels and Rome, and from Lufthansa through Frankfurt and Munich. Photo: Nicholas Cummins, Simple Flying

Why a new agreement?

Several factors contributed to the signing of this agreement.

Firstly, the new Greek Prime Minister is from a party that has been forging closer links between China and Greece for a decade. This is outlined by the South China Morning Post.

Secondly, the continued growth of the Chinese economy is fuelling demand for foreign travel. Countries like Greece, which is one of Europe’s most visited countries, continue to benefit from this.

The aviation industry in Greece is particularly strong because domestic travel is so much quicker by air than by ferry or especially by road. Aegean Airlines makes good use of this by offering an excellent network for connections in Athens.

Current circumstances

Currently, airlines nominated by Greece and China are together allowed to offer a maximum of 14 weekly flights between them. But this right is not being used to its fullest. Only one carrier, Air China, flies between Greece and China.

Air China serves Athens from Beijing three times weekly, year-round. Flights depart Athens just after 1 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and arrive at 4.30 am on the following day in Beijing. These are operated by an Airbus A330 aircraft and last 10 hours.

The current agreement is fairly restrictive, which is why there are only six weekly flights between China and Greece. The limited options for frequencies, destinations and carriers that are allowed to operate flights has resulted in not all 14 weekly options being used for flights.

Boeing 747-8, Lufthansa, Air China, Korean Air
Air China is the only airline making use of the current agreement between China and Greece. Photo: Boeing

What China and Greece agreed

The new agreement, according to Greek Travel Pages, will allow “common code flights on routes between the two countries”. This means that Aegean Airlines and Air China could establish a codeshare agreement on Air China’s flights. This is not unlikely as they are both members of Star Alliance.

If Aegean and Air China began codesharing on this direct flight, the route should see a spike in passenger flow. This is because the Beijing-Athens flight would be fed by Aegean’s domestic network out of Athens, and Air China’s extensive network across Asia out of Beijing.

As a result, the establishment of the codeshare agreement alone would likely be enough to justify an increase in frequencies on the route due to a rise in passenger flow. But this would not be all.

Air China A350
Air China is the Flag Carrier of the People’s Republic. Photo: N509FZ Wikimedia Commons

The new MoU also allows for flights between more destinations than just Athens and Beijing. Furthermore, in January next year, Greece and China are expected to publish an additional agreement that will clarify which additional airlines are allowed to fly between China and Greece.

Also, the new MoU allows for airlines to operate unscheduled charter flights between Greek and Chinese airports. Most importantly, airlines launching China-Greece routes will be allowed to operate up to 35 weekly flights between them.

But we are yet to find out the answer to one question – will they?